Au Contraire – 2016

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The science-fiction and fantasy convention, Au Contraire 3 took place this weekend in Wellington and it was a blast!

I was honoured to have two presentations. The first was on Friday, as part of the youth One-Day writing Workshops. I was thrilled to be included in a prestigious line-up of presenters, including talented Kiwi writers, Piper Mejia, Lee Murray, Kevin Berry, Celine Murray, Eileen R Mueller, Alicia Ponder, Simon Fogarty, Jan Goldie, Alan Chad Lindsay and Jean Gilbert.

The kids had a great day, and I was blown away by some of the incredibly talented young writers.

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A huge thanks to Piper for organising this event and giving us writers a chance to get involved with the young folk who, let’s face it, are the reason why we write young adult fiction!

The convention didn’t stop there though, I gave a second presentation on the role of sound in storytelling which was a nice change of pace. All too often, we get swept up in the visual feast of words and pretty covers, we forget about the huge potential sound plays in stories. These days, audio books offer a valuable way for writers to branch out and reach a wider market.

There were discussion panels for a variety of genres, covering a multitude of subjects from poetry to horror. I especially liked the panel from the independent authors. I picked up some very handy tips from the pros. The writing workshop offered by Anna Mackenzie was also fabulous and really got my creative juices flowing.

On Sunday, we had the book launch of At The Edge, a collection of New Zealand and Australian speculative short stories, which I was, again, humbled to be a part of.

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Sadly, I missed the presentations of the Sir Julius Vogel Awards, but I was so proud and excited to see so many of my friends take home the prizes. Eileen Mueller, claimed best youth novel for her ‘You Say Which Way’ novel, ‘Dragon’s Realm’ and Lee Murray won her sixth SJV for her short, ‘The Thief’s Tale’.

Well done to all the winners as well as the finalists for producing such great work. You can see a list of the winners here.

A big thanks to the guests of honour, Juliet Marillier, Amanda Fitzwater and Martin Wallace for their contributions to the convention. It was inspiring meeting so many great authors.

And a very special thanks to Lee and Dan for putting the program together and everyone else who helped make this such a great event.

So…when is the next convention?

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Hyperphantasia! The Joys of an overactive imagination

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I only discovered this recently, that some people can not see images when they read. They call this Aphantasia. I was so upset to learn that so many people miss out on the magic of mental images.
I think I fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hyperphantasia.
 
I see so much when I read that it distracts me. It’s not just images though. I hear, I smell, I taste. I get so wound up in exploring another world inside my head that sometimes it takes me months to finish a book. The more I love the book, sometimes, the harder it is to read.
 
No wonder everyone called me a daydreamer!
I was teased as a child for living too much in an imaginary world, but that never stopped me. I never stopped being creative. Now that I’m an adult, I have a career in the film industry, Im an author, a musician and a painter. I can never get enough of the fantastical realms within my own mind. There’s nothing better than getting out those ideas and expressing them through image and sound.
I love being a daydreamer.
The main character in my upcoming book, James, is also a chronic daydreamer. Though his dreams are more nightmarish. And of course, his nightmares also have the unfortunate tendency to come true.
It’s been a while since I gave an update on my plans to publish, but I swear there will be more news very soon!
In the meantime, I’m going to just grab a book and have myself a little daydream.
 
Is there anyone else out there who has Hyperphantasia?
 

2015 – A Good Year for Sci-Fi

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The year is crawling to a close and it’s time for some reflection on the great Sci-Fi creations that have come out of it.

I’ve been busy working on sounds for both an upcoming sci-fi film as well as the mysterious game for the magical Magic Leap, both of which are absolutely incredible! I can’t wait till they’re released so that I can talk about them.

It certainly is a boom time for sci-fi, in books, films, games, and TV.

Science in general seems to be quite popular too.

This might have something to do with the current push for humans to go to Mars?

https://www.nasa.gov/topics/journeytomars/index.html

 

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Or maybe, its due to a cultural fear of Earths’s demise caused by our misuse of current technologies?

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Or perhaps, it’s the fact that this, 2015, was the year of the future that Marty McFly travelled to in the Back-to-the-Future series?

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Or just maybe, it’s because we’re all eagerly awaiting the new Star-Wars film?

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Whatever the reason, I am loving the eclectic and inspiring science-fiction I am seeing today, from block-busters right down to short films and indie books.

My own favourite Sci-Fi highlight of the year is up in the air, pending the release of the aforementioned Star-Wars film 😉

But aside from that, I’d probably have to say the most inspiring Sci-Fi stuff I’ve seen this year is the films and projects I’m working on. Unfortunately I cannot disclose any details about these jobs, but one day, I will.

Working with a host of creative people in the film and games industry is just about as fantastic as life can get. I feel very blessed.

Are you loving this Sci-Fi boom? What is your pick of the best Sci-Fi highlight for this year?

 

 

 

Book vs Film Review: The Martian

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As someone who works in the film industry, I am not a huge advocate of the – ‘films ruin books’ – argument. Though there are certainly cases where film versions do no justice to the books they are based on, there are also cases where I believe films have enhanced and improved aspects of a particular book. Mostly, I think it’s unfair to suggest that a film can ruin a book, because it is not like the existence of the film can erase the book from history. Nor is anyone forced to watch the film if they loved the book and want don’t think the film can live up to the experience they had reading it.

Having made that claim, let me say that I do enjoy reading a book prior to watching the film. This is mostly because the film only takes 2 hours (or 3+ if its a Tolkien experience), while a book takes a lot more time, allowing me to get swept away to another world for much longer.

The Martian was no exception. I made sure I read it before the film came out and I am sure glad I did.

 

Book. *****

This was an exceptional book, living up to it’s notoriety completely. Totally worth the hype. Methodically researched and beautifully crafted, I was hooked from page 1. The story telling is inventive and fresh. Although at times, it runs the risk of losing dramatic tension, because we are being told about dire situations after the hero has effectively dealt with them. However, Weir keeps us engaged through the use of great characterisation and choice of places to switch points of view. Weir’s protagonist Mark Watney, is compelling and real. The secondary characters are well fleshed out too, considering how little time we get to spend with the rest of the cast. One of the things I loved most about the flight crew was that, as Weir suggested in an interview, they are all exemplary human beings. Unlike some sci-fi’s where we see astronauts fighting amongst themselves or losing their minds, Weir recognises that we only send people into space who are fully capable of handling the associated pressures. The drama is centred around the dangers of space, not the people who have signed up to be there. Despite the heavy maths and science that is present in the text, it is also fast paced and thrilling. The balance is achieved, once again, through great characterisation and humour. I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi, especially as it can be brutal, overly-technical or too dark. The Martian, however, kept me smiling for days.

 

Film. *****

This film was spectacular. There has been a lot of wonderful sci-fi films released over the past few years, such as Gravity and Interstellar. As a sound editor, I am capable of enjoying a film like this on 2 separate levels. I watch films from a technical standpoint, analysing the sound mostly, but the visuals, the editing, and the craft of the film-makers in general. On this level alone, the Martian was fantastic. Great sound, great visual effects, both practical and computer generated. I want to go to Mars just to listen to that beautiful dust storm. I want to drive a rover across the rolling red plains. The film lived up to my imagination of the scenery and exceeded my expectations of what would be delivered. In terms of the story itself, I think the film-makers stayed very true to the feel and tone of the book as well as covering much more of the plot than I’d expected. If this was a recreation of my book, I’d be blown away. I love Ridley Scott’s representation of Weir’s vision. The science is as close to accurate as possible, though the technical details are never overdone. Reality never gets in the way of a good yarn. It’s still all about the character and his story.

So for me Book vs Film? Well, they’re pretty even in terms of my enjoyment, but since the film wouldn’t exist without the book, then perhaps I’ll let the book have this one.

How about you did you like one and not the other?

http://gizmodo.com/how-nasa-helped-make-the-martians-user-interfaces-reale-1734698612?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

 

Explore Space Now!

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Imagine travelling vast distances across space and time to explore alien worlds and distant galaxies. I know I do. Just about my favourite part of writing sci-fi is learning about the mysteries of the universe. I love everything from the serene to the deadly, the ugly to the awesome.

Which is why I find programs like Space Engine — http://en.spaceengine.org/ — so amazing. Check it out, it’s free. (Though when anyone offers a wonderful service for free, I always feel more inclined to donate to support their generous work.)

As it says on the site:

“A free space simulation program that lets you explore the universe in three dimensions, from planet Earth to the most distant galaxies. Areas of the known universe are represented using actual astronomical data, while regions uncharted by astronomy are generated procedurally. Millions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets – all available for exploration. You can land any planet, moon or asteroid and watch alien landscapes and celestial phenomena. You can even pilot starships and atmospheric shuttles.”

Of course, reading about space or watching simulations always ends up leaving me wanting more! I want to go there in person. So then I start to write.

Everything I  learn about astrobiology and exo-planets I use to feed my world-building. I usually have to leave a lot out of the narrative, unfortunately. Back-story often clogs the pace and flow of action, however, it does help the writer build characters and shape drama.

Where a character comes from, their biology and their planet’s history will influence their interaction with other characters. Getting it across to the reader without info-dumping is the tricky part. Readers don’t need to know about the specifics of an alien planet’s geology and history, however you can imply a lot of information through characterisation. For example, a tall thin alien might come from a planet with a lower gravity than ours. This would also affect their movement, their sense of balance, their agility etc.

Of course, many would argue against the use of bipedal aliens in sci-fi. Many people complain that films and stories often assume that aliens would look like humans, but with funny noses or pointy ears.

I simply think we make aliens look human because we want to read human stories. Don’t get me wrong, I love sci-fi that pushes the boundaries and dares to portray a more realistic vision of life in space. However, personally, I’m more interested in writing stories that are at their core, tales of adventure. I’m basically writing adventure-fantasy set in space and why not? I understand that some people want sci-fi to be hard and clean and technically 100% accurate, I love that stuff too. But why should ‘space’ be off limits for fantasy writers? Especially when no human, (as far as we know), has gone to other star-systems and met alien life? Isn’t it the ultimate fantasy?

We’re living in an exciting time for scientific discovery, but also for creative introspection. In a world where much has already been discovered, space truly is the final frontier. So get out there and explore!

 

The Magic of Sci-fi

Carrying on from my last post about working in film and how it helps me learn about the crafting of story through my experience with the editorial process, I thought I might take a moment to look at the film I worked on last year that has just come out, Elysium.

I mean, I’m not going to review it, since I worked on it, that would be a little self-serving. No, really, I just want to talk about how difficult and yet enticing it is to write sci-fi these days.

I have always loved science, but I feel that in the last few years so many changes and advances have been made in scientific fields of study that we are really in a very open and exploratory phase of human history. Fields of study that were at one time mocked or ridiculed are now openly accepted as legitimate research subjects or at least worthy of investigating.

I feel that a resurgence of interest in sci-fi films and novels somewhat reflects this shift. It’s an exciting time to be writing sci-fi and getting to work on one of this year’s biggest sci-fi films was a real honour. It was also an amazing opportunity to work with writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who is at the forefront of modern sci-fi story telling.

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/aug/17/elysium-neill-bloomkamp-interview

I loved working on this project and felt honoured to have been part of a team that was so talented and dedicated.

However, when it comes to writing my own sci-fi, I often I find myself daunted by the amount of research required to do the work justice. I find that I battle constantly with trying to…

  1. Create accurate and plausible technology and science for my universe without…
  2. Bogging down the text with too much jargon and at the same time…
  3. Keeping it fresh and exciting with ideas and concepts that perhaps haven’t been looked at before or at least are being dealt with in a new way. While…
  4. Being mindful of genre staples/ cliches/ paradigms .Knowing when to adhere to what is tradition and when to steer clear from what is old hat…and lastly
  5. Trying to figure out how a modern teen really would behave in the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.

 

All the while I’m conscious that sci-fi readers are among the most critical and scrutinizing of all genre fans. And they have every right to be! I know I’m critical of other sci-fi writers.

Sci-fi writers  suffer all the criticisms of ordinary fantasy. Both genres deal with forging something completely imaginary and trying to make it believable. Readers ask questions like…

  1. Is the world building seamless?
  2. Are the characters realistic for the world that they inhabit? and
  3. Is the social/economic/political structures within the world detailed and well balanced to convince the reader that its all real?

But unlike fantasty authors, sci-fi writers also have to deal with an audience who have a sophisticated understanding of modern science and technology. Every single reader/viewer has their own opinion on how they foresee humanity will fare in the future – for better or worse. This is the key to understanding the sci-fi genre…because sci-fi stories all have something in common. They deal with the concept of our use of science or technology getting out of hand. The classic Prometheus myth. Sci-fi tackles heavy issues dealing with the human thirst of conquering new horizons without taking heed of the consequences. It is a genre that is about looking to the possibilities of the future in order to take responsibility for the actions of the present.

In Blomkamp’s Elysium, for example, we see the dark side of that philosophy. Elysium offers a look at how our current world social and economic structure may lead to a future where social division between the rich and the poor are at extremes and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. We see a scenario where sacrifices must be made on both sides of the social spectrum, in order for a balance to be re-established.

Without going into too much specific back-story about how the world ended up in this situation, Elysium makes the viewer think about the implications of our current world economic situation and do some hard evaluating.

The sci-fi author must always be looking to the horizon. I find that it is getting harder to keep up to date with the rapid advances in science. It is really difficult to stay ahead of the curb. You have to identify with modern science and project it forwards, to investigate how it may evolve and change in time and what implications it has for the future of humanity, both good and bad.

But if a book takes three years to write/publish then the modern sci-fi writer has to realise that in the time it takes to get the book out there, a whole gamut of scientific discoveries will emerge.

Two years ago when I began writing my book, the Higgs Boson particle had not been discovered…NASA’s Curiosity had not landed on Mars…numerous exo-planets hadn’t been discovered including one Earth-sized planet that orbits Alpha Centauri B. And that’s just scratching the surface of what’s been going on.

Now, having said all this, my story is heavily steeped in what can only be called magic. I worry about this at times, knowing that hard-core sci-fi readers might reject some of my more ethereal concepts. I try to reassure myself that magic is just as valid in sci-fi as physics, since at some point in our human history, they could be seen as one and the same thing.

I tend to think that only by incorporating things that seem utterly like magic to us, can I write sci-fi that is true to what I love about the mystery of science. Or perhaps, I’m just a dreamer who has my head too far up in the clouds? Sometimes I focus too hard on getting the facts right, (especially knowing that my nuclear chemist brother would not approve of my sloppy research). But sometimes, I find it particularly hard to be practical when it comes to some of the core scientific aspects of my work. I prefer to focus on a more philosophical and emotional side of things and sort of let the structural mechanics of the world fall into place around the characters. After all, it’s the character’s story that matters most to me.

So, yes, it’s a difficult and yet thrilling era to be working on sci-fi, I might even go so far as to say it’s magical.